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TIMES ONLINE
November 26, 2002


Albanians take over organised crime

By Ian Cobain


IN TOWNS and cities across Britain last night members of the oldest profession were working for a new and sinister breed of employer.

Just hours after David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, warned that Europe_s stability was threatened by organised crime, prostitutes were earning millions of pounds for Albanian gangsters.

Highlighting the rise of gangs from the south east of Europe, Mr Blunkett said:
_Organised criminals are more organised than we are._

Scotland Yard estimates that Albanian gangs control about 75 per cent of prostitution in Soho. Many of the women and children caught up in the trade are the victims of a modern form of slavery, kidnapped or tricked into coming to Britain. Moreover, about three quarters of the heroin coming from Afghanistan to Britain_s streets will pass through Albanian hands.

Albanians and Kosovans in Britain are said to be involved in extortion, gun-running and organised theft. They are even alleged to have plotted the kidnap of Victoria Beckham.

They have been reported not only in London, but in Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Hull _ a hub of Albanian people-smuggling _ and, improbably, Telford in Shropshire. During the past two years a similar pattern has been reported from Milan to the American Midwest, where Albanians are emerging as the would-be superstars of crime to rival the Sicilian Mafia, the Chinese Triads and the Russian mob.

One of the problems facing law enforcement agencies is that Albanian criminals are governed by a code of honour that makes the Mafia_s omerta resemble little more than a casual word of warning. The Kanun, or Code, dates back to the 15th century and was drawn up by Leke Dukagjini, an Albanian prince who was a leading figure in the war with the Ottoman Turks. It covered not only marriage, family law and property, but also matters of honour, under which a besa, or pledge, must never be broken.
The Kanun continued to govern everyday life among the clans in the north and east of the country until well into the 20th century. Blood feuds became endemic as clan members avenged the killing of their own with the murder of a member of the rival clan.

Enver Hoxha, the dictator who led Albania after the Second World War, did his utmost to keep the lid on the code and the outside world never came into contact with the outlaws who observed it.

With the collapse of communism in 1989, however, bandits whose lives and crimes had changed little over the previous 600 years emerged from the Cold War, ready to break into more modern rackets.

Gang members began to seep across the border in the early Nineties. The trickle began to resemble a flood after the war in Kosovo. Initially they worked as muscle for Turkish and Kurdish drug-smuggling gangs, but police say they have emerged as contenders in their own right.

Albanian crime clans are organised according to ancient patterns of rural life. The head of each clan, or the krye, leads a group of underbosses known as kryetar, who will usually be blood relations. They sit on a committee called a bajrack.

It is the bajrack that decides on new enterprises: the money needed for a brothel in Soho, for example, will come from the committee, and a proportion of the profits will always be sent to its home village.

Today a police officer interviewing an Albanian criminal will find the code of silence almost impossible to crack.

The Albanians have four other advantages: like any successful mafia, they have a safe homeland and a large diaspora; the country lies on one of the most lucrative drug trafficking routes; their links to the Kosovo Liberation Army provide a supply of weapons and they are prepared to use extreme violence.

The coup that saw Albanians take over the prostitution rackets of Soho was entirely bloodless. According to Dr Mark Galeotti, head of the European Crime Unit at Keele University, the gangs appear to have used their profits from the heroin trade to buy their way into vice, taking over from criminals who were keen to move to other enterprises.

_They are still on an upward trajectory: they have another couple of years of growth in the UK. So far Britain has been easy, because we don_t have a single mafia here. We have a patchwork of gangs.

_But there is the real danger that they will use the violence they have employed elsewhere, such as bombings and drive-by shootings, as they try to consolidate their position._

So far the violence has been confined to beating and mutilating prostitutes and attacking law-abiding Albanians.

However, it spilt into the open in Wood Green, North London, last July, when rival gangs exchanged shots in a gunfight that one detective likened to the OK Corral.
There is a silver lining to the cloud of Albanian crime. As they expand, the gangs have been forced to recruit outsiders, who have become a source of intelligence for detectives.

As the 30,000-strong Albanian population in Britain becomes more settled they have been more willing to co-operate with police. In Liverpool, for example, detectives are increasingly confident that they are beating the gangs with the aid of Albanian emigrés.

Dr Galeotti says that there may be much blood spilt before the war on Albanian gangs is finally won. _In Milan, where they actually tried to oust the Mafia, they are being beaten,_ he said. _But they are going down fighting._

Kidnap and vice

n Mr Blunkett was speaking after two Albanians began jail sentences for kidnapping a 56-year-old man after a financial deal went sour. Their victim was discovered by police in the boot of a car. The two had demanded cash from the man_s family in return for his release.

Shpetim Lisha was jailed for 13 years and a 17-year-old youth got five years earlier this month.

n Last week two Albanian cousins were jailed for a total of 16½ years for offences ranging from drug dealing to rape.

Mustapha Kadiu, 31, and Edmond Ethemi, 21, exploited a 15-year-old girl and a 22-year-old woman. Kadiu had taken the 15-year-old Romanian girl to London in July 2001 after she was sold into prostitution in Yugoslavia.

She was usually forced to work a seven-day week and earned up to £400 per day. Kadiu took all the money. Her earnings paid for food, living expenses and rent.
When her earnings were not satisfactory, Kadiu would threaten and violently assault her. He also forced her to have sex with him.

n Albanians control over 70 per cent of Soho vice and send £12 million a year back to Albania from the earnings of about 1,000 women. They also control much of the smuggling of women into Britain for prostitution.

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